Dr. Brian Sims Named 2014 Civitan McNulty Scientist

Dr. Brian Sims receives the 2014 Civitan McNulty Scientist Award for CIRC Director Dr. Harald Sontheimer.Dr. Brian Sims receives the 2014 Civitan McNulty Scientist Award from CIRC Director Dr. Harald Sontheimer.
Brian Sims, M.D., Ph.D., Associate Professor in the UAB Department of Pediatrics was named the 2014 McNulty Civitan Scientist in ceremonies on November 6, 2014 at the UAB Civitan International Research Center. Dr. Sims will receive a $50,000 grant to support his research efforts at UAB. Dr. Sims completed his Ph.D. and M.D. degrees in 1999 and 2000 respectively at the University of Alabama Birmingham followed by a clinical research fellowship at Washington University School of Medicine. He received the American Academy of Pediatrics Neonatal Resuscitation Program Young Investigators Award in 2003 and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation’s Harold Amos Medical Faculty Development Program Scholarship for 2005-2009. Dr. Sims is a board certified neonatologist affiliated with the University of Alabama Birmingham and Children’s Hospital of Alabama. In addition to his ongoing clinical schedule, Dr. Sims has served as an active mentor to a number of undergraduate and graduate students whose projects coincide with his major research interest in understanding the cellular mechanisms involved in premature brain injury. The McNulty Scientist Award is named in honor of the McNulty family of Baltimore, who's efforts played a key role in focusing fund raising and research serving the developmental disabilities community through Civitan International and the Civitan Chesapeake District Foundation.

CIRC Participates in Rare Disease Network Expansion

In 2014-15 the UAB Civitan International Research Center (CIRC) will continue to be a major contributor to new research on treatments and causes of rare diseases which affect children. As one of 22 consortia working with 98 patient advocacy groups, physician scientists at UAB, including CIRC Medical Director Dr. Alan K. Percy, will play a key role in translating new research to benefit children and families challenged by devastating disorders such as Rett syndrome. NIH has provided $29-million in 2014 to expand the Rare Disease Clinical Research Network.

Dr. Alan Percy sees a young patient in the UAB Rett Syndrome Clinic located on the 1st floor of the UAB Civitan Center.Dr. Alan Percy sees a young patient in the UAB Rett Syndrome Clinic located on the 1st floor of the UAB Civitan Center.UAB is involved with clinical research in two different projects. The first deals with three disorders of the nervous system: Rett syndrome, MECP2 duplication disorder and RTT-related disorders, under the direction of Alan Percy, M.D., CIRC Medical Director. These conditions strike previously healthy-seeming children — usually girls for RTT and boys for MECP2 duplication disorder — early in their lives and can lead to seizures, difficulty with fine motor control and walking, and intellectual disability. This project, which has been funded by NIH since 2003, is preparing to launch clinical trials in the coming months.

In the second project, UAB will be part of a 10-member group of medical centers headed by Boston Children’s Hospital in studying three rare genetic syndromes, tuberous sclerosis complex, Phelan-McDermid syndrome and PTEN hamartoma tumor syndrome, which often cause autism spectrum disorder and intellectual disability. Martina Bebin, M.D., professor of neurology, is the lead investigator at UAB for the $6 million, five-year study. The ultimate goal is to launch clinical trials of new treatments and develop biomarkers that can be used to monitor treatment effectiveness for the three rare syndromes, and possibly for broader groups of ASD/ID patients.

The Rare Diseases Clinical Research Network’s efforts take the form of a natural history study with three major goals: identify and understand the core clinical features of each disorder, identify factors that can modify the severity of the disorders, and understand the relationship between patients’ symptoms and their brain imaging and electroencephalography alterations.

Emerging Scholars for 2014-15 Announced


The 2014-2015 Civitan Emerging Scholar Awards and Civitan McNulty Scientist were announced at the Fall Civitan Board reception on November 6, 2014 in the Civitan International Research Center Atrium.

Receiving Emerging Scholar awards were: Andrew Arrant, Ph.D., Postdoctoral Fellow, Department of Neurology; Vladimir Grubisic, M.D., Ph.D., Postdoctoral Fellow, Department of Neurobiology; and Natasha Pacheco, Graduate Student Trainee, Department of Cell, Developmental and Integrative Biology. Haley Johnson, Graduate Student Trainee, Department of Psychology, is the 2014 recipient of the Whit Mallory Research Fellow Award.

Receiving UAB Civitan Emerging Scholar Awards for 2014-2015 are (r-l) Natasha Pacheco, Andrew Arrant, Haley Johnson, and Vladimir Grusbisic. Receiving UAB Civitan Emerging Scholar Awards for 2014-2015 are (r-l) Natasha Pacheco, Andrew Arrant, Haley Johnson, and Vladimir Grubisic. Andrew Arrant’s research focuses on Neuronal ceroid lipofuscinosis (NCL), a devastating neurodegenerative disorder with an age of onset ranging from infancy to early adulthood, resulting in vision loss, seizures, early-onset dementia, and early death. Potential gene therapies to target this disorder are being studied through this project. Andrew is a postdoctoral fellow in the laboratory of Dr. Erik Roberson.

Vladimir Grubisic is completing a postdoctoral fellowship in the laboratory of Vladimir Parpura. He is investigating the role of the enteric nervous system (ENS), often regarded as “the second brain” due to its size, complexity and autonomy, in gastrointestinal (GI) disturbances in mouse models of Rett and Pitt-Hopkins syndromes. GI disturbances are the most common non-neurological symptoms in RTT and PTHS patients. This research could yield new models to study RTT/PTHS-related GI disturbances, and allow the development of new therapeutic vistas to improve the quality of life of patients affected with these disorders.

Natasha Pacheco’s primary project in the laboratory focuses on abnormal astrocyte development in Rett syndrome. Working with Dr. Michelle Olsen, Natasha’s project will provide insight on the role of astrocytes in normal brain development and may illuminate how the loss of MeCP2 function in astrocytes contributes to abnormal brain development in Rett syndrome.

Haley Johnson’s research project title is “Understanding and Preventing Motor Vehicle Crashes around Social and Non-social Hazards Among Adolescent Drivers with Autism Spectrum Disorders.” Compared to nearly three-fourths of the general population, only 24% of adults with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) consider themselves independent drivers. The proposed study seeks to better understand the behavioral impairments that may increase rates of unintentional injury in this vulnerable population of drivers; more specifically, to evaluate the perception of social and non-social driving hazards in ASD drivers in a simulated, driving environment. Haley is a graduate student in the laboratory of Dr. Despina Stavrinos.

Each Emerging Scholar and Whit Mallory Research Fellow receives a $25,000 award provided through support from Civitan International. This program provides direct funding to advanced graduate students and postdoctoral fellows in their research efforts to address the causes and treatments of developmental disabilities.

Civitan Emerging Scholar Awards Program

The Civitan International Research Center is requesting proposals for clinical or basic science research aimed at enhancing our current understanding of typical and atypical brain development, autism spectrum disorders, Down and Rett syndromes, developmental disabilities, impaired cognitive development, and the effects of environmental toxins on the development of the brain. The $25,000 award may be used as a stipend supplement or for direct projects costs.

Proposals should consist of a single PDF document containing a two page description of the planned research; a letter of endorsement from the mentor; and CV from the applicant.

Download a pdf version of the program announcement.